Comic Review: Grass Kings, Issue 3

[MINOR SPOILERS from previous issues head)

Recap: The Grass Kingdom is a commune. There are no laws but those the people who live there keep for themselves. Native Americans once lived on this land, it has been fought for and lost and blood has watered the grass that grows there. Now The Grass King, Robert, and his older brother, Bruce (who is the active, though unauthorized, law enforcer in The Grass Kingdom) are about to butt heads with the sheriff of Cargill, the neighboring town, to the point of no return. It may have something to do with a young woman who Robert found in the river outside his house. The previous night Robert took her in, thinking, at first she was his missing daughter. We left off the story of The Grass Kingdom when the sheriff of Cargill sent his goon, Big Dan, to find this mysterious woman, though who she is, we’re still not sure.


Set Up: Perhaps this should be titled Prologue, but I think “set up” is also a good term. A prologue is defined as “a separate introductory section of a literary or musical work,” which I suppose would be appropriate, but in my experience prologues commonly feel disconnected from the plot in many significant ways, typically until the end of the literary work. In a comic book, published in floppies (22-page booklet), however, a reminder needs to be given every issue. “This is where you are. This is the world you will live in for this issue.” With this in mind, issue 3 opens on a sunset or sunrise spread across a plane. Two small cars chase another. 1920. Prohibition. Small bangs come from each. The people are shooting at each other. The smugglers try to board a bSee the source imageoat to make it across the lake. A man is shot. His body is left floating in the lake.

Plot: We pick up the story ninety-eight years later in Roberts house. We learn Maria swam to The Grass Kingdom from Cargill, forty miles up-river. She reveals, without preamble, she is Sheriff Humbert’s wife. The Sheriff of Cargill. At the same time, Big Dan is hiding in the woods outside Robert’s home. When Robert makes to leave the house to go get some food (all he has in his fridge is beer) he years something. Big Dan tries to force entry into Robert’s house only to be confronted by Robert. Big Dan is in process of beating the tar out of Robert when Maria comes out the back door, a gun pointed at Big Dan’s head.

Character: This is the moment in which Maria’s role as a distressed damsel disappears. She shoots Big Dan in the back of the head. Then a view more times, just to make sure. Meanwhile, Robert’s older brother, the lawman of The Grass Kingdom has found Pinball, who was beaten up by Big Dan. Pinball’s got a concussion, but people are taking care of him. Bruce knows something is wrong immidiately. He sees Big Dan’s footprints and makes his way to Robert’s home, just through the woods. When Bruce knocks on Robert’s door, there’s a wonderful exchange between the two brothers. It reveals a lot about how they interact. When Robert tells Bruce about how dan died, Bruce’s immediate reaction is to get rid of the body. Robert mentions sinking it in the lake, but the first thing the police will do is drag the lake. Robert should know this.

Character background is revealed through a collection of sepia images. It recounts how Robert became convinced there was a serial killer in the area and how the police of Cargill didn’t do anything. When the police dragged the lake they found a collection of remains, but nothing conclusive. The idea didn’t die though. Robert still suspects there is a serial killer somewhere in their midsts.

Art: As in the two previous issues the watercolor sets the tone of this issue as well. However, there is a subtle difference here. Much of what I noticed was the background colors the artist used. Everything done in secrecy has a backdrop of dark blues and purples, everything done in violence, when blood is shed, has a backdrop of reds, oranges, and yellows. Even when Maria shoots Big Dan, which happens at night, Tyler Jenkins splices in some bloody colors amid the dark tones of the night sky. It’s artfully done and creates a mood in each panel. One that is both oppressive in its closeness as well as expansive in scope. These backdrop colors foreshadow the events of each scene. I’ll look for this clever construct in the future.

Small Thoughts: Women These Days by Amy Butcher, Brevity, May 14th, 2018

There is something strangely mesmerizing about the violence directed at women in our current society. Anyone who has watched Law and Order: SVU knows this. Anyone who has watched Mindhunters on Netflix knows this. Anyone who has read an Anne Rule book watched or read interviews and accounts of Ted Bundy knows this. Anyone who is excited to see the new Zach Efron biopic about Bundy knows this–yet we all pretend as though this type of violence is rare. On the fringe. Removed. It is other. But the truth is it isn’t other. It’s on our doorstep and the victims and perpetrators are people we likely know–or could know–and see often in the background of the selfies we take, the moments we share with friends, we spent in the park or at the beach or in the movie theater.

butcher_It is prophetic that the author of this piece has the last name of “Butcher,” as she compiles all the headlines after a year of Googling “Woman Walking” and here are the results. I won’t share, but it is a long list of murders, rapes, abductions, maimings, destruction of perceived weakness. Like any ultra-violent piece, it raises questions of masculinity. What is it? While this piece is titled “Woman These Days” it should be titled, “Men These Days,” because the men in this piece are the agents of change and the women the unlucky ones who cannot seem to escape a societal phenomenon that perceives their pain and death as a spectacle to gasp at, but not to end.

The end of the piece is a slap to the face of anyone who believes feminism is harmful to the female gender. Of course, I’d posit that anyone who thinks feminism is a bad thing has an incomplete/ignorant understanding of what feminism is. But the ending of this piece is a snippet of conversation between the author and her male partner: the love of her life–as he explains that feminism is nothing more than a bunch of women that hate men, and how feminism is hurting the entire gender.

Paired with all the news reports, this ending strikes the heart of any reader. It turns the argument that feminism is about hating men on its head. Is it women who hate men in our society, feminist or not? Or is it men in our society who cannot grasp the vulnerabilities of womanhood and so lash out in anger, hatred, and violence?

Read the piece on Brevity’s website by clicking here.

Midwestern Gothic by Barrett Swanson, The Believer Magazine, Feb/Mar 2018

So, not a short story, but a creative nonfiction essay that is thoughtful, disturbing, and illuminating all at once.

The author, Swanson, was in college when he friend, who went to a different college, was found dead in a river. The official reports were of an accidental drowning, but Swanson couldn’t help but wonder if something else might have happened. While he suppressed the conspiracy theory for the well being of his friend’s family, and for his own sanity, years later the smiley face murders theory comes to his knowledge.

The theory, or conspiracy theory depending on who you ask, posits a killer or network of killers across the United States that targets athletic, popular, and prominently (though not exclusively) white male college students. The symbol of the smiley face was found near or at least some hundreds of yards from many of the bodies found over the years, which some say proves a link. Swanson, for some years, believed–or at least entertained the idea concerning his friend–whose death was one of the possible smile face murders, as a spray painted smiley face was found near a bridge not extraordinarily far from where Swanson’s friend was found.

Swanson uses his friend’s death, in this piece, as a launch pad for a variety of issues, not least of which is the over-consumption of alcohol on, or near, college campuses–but also the willingness of Midwesterners to believe in conspiracy theories whether they are political, social, extraterrestrial, etc. But Swanson reels himself back from what could have been a dive into unsubstantiated flat earth theories with some cold facts near the end of the piece.

“Roughly 3,800 people drown each year in the US, and seventeen-to-twenty-four-years-olds constitute the most common age group, after unobserved children.

“Drowning on a weekend is 48 percent more likely than drowning during the workweek. Almost all the men [as well as Swanson’s friend] thought to be murdered by the Smiley Face Killers were found on a Saturday or Sunday.”

This piece is perhaps less about conspiracy theories and more about the willingness of white males in the U.S. to believe they are the target of some nefarious plot. It’s a story and account I’m thankful to Barrett Swanson for sharing and teaches readers about the struggles our country is going through right now.